The project that kicked off last September (2018), outside the structures of traditional farming organisation, and projected to last until 2025, is all about “getting control back to farmers” from the big beef buyers, empowering them to make good business decisions, said Beef Plan spokesperson Eamon Corley.
He said: “As many as 17,000 farmers signed up after a series of meetings well attended by farmers around the country.” The project’s aim is to get membership increased up to 40,000.
“For years, Irish farmers have been at the mercy of factory owners and big retailers to sell their produce,” Corley said. And they [supermarkets and factories] decide the price for beef with farmers having no negotiating powers, he alleged.
As a result, “unregulated supermarkets have had a field day. Over the years their percentage of the retail price has increased steadily to such an extent that they now hold onto beef for a few days and pocket 51% for themselves,” said a Beef Plan note, which added that famers also deal “with the factories who pocket another 29% of the retail price”.
For deals struck under terms laid down by the Beef Plan, factories would be required to commit to pay a minimum base price, giving farmers a margin over the average cost of production. Also, there are plans to set up purchasing groups for each Irish county, Willie McCormack, Beef Plan’s Westmeath’s secretary told GlobalMeatNews. “The group will work to reduce input costs for farmers through deals on insurance, fuel, farm supplies etc,”.
This is all part of taking back some control of the food chain: “These producer groups will engage with factories and market cattle to ensure maximum return for the producer”, including suckler farmers and finisher, Mr McCormack said. Ultimately, “the movement intends to set up its own co-ops to handle processing of cattle working with independent processors and subsequently market the beef products as a premium product with the focus on grass-fed suckler beef with a low carbon footprint,” he added.
Moreover, given beef imports have been flooding the Irish market, reducing imports is another objective: Mr Corley said that of late 40,000 tonnes of beef imported from Poland and packaged in Ireland have been sold into the local market. “Uneducated consumers will think this beef has been reared in Ireland whereas they have only been packaged in Ireland,” he said.
However, before taking any formal action, the group’s top priority is getting at least 60% of Irish beef farmers behind their plan, McCormack added. Enterprise Ireland says there are 80,000 beef suckler farms in the country.